Dhaka, Bangladesh
Modi amidst a million mutinies

OFF THE TRACK

Modi amidst a million mutinies

Keerthik Sasidharan

For him, political Hinduism is a way of returning to a theologically grounded reading of India Among the great many curiosities of mass psychology that burble up in an election — especially one as gargantuan in scale and radical in its conceit as India’s, which spans over a month and encompasses 900 million voters — none is as intriguing as the singular status of Narendra Modi in the political consciousness of India. In 2014, Modi offered himself as a bringer of change. One who would incinerate the old world and in the wake of its ashes usher in achhe din, a phrase that is all things to all people. But, either Modi overestimated his own abilities to change India or, more likely, governing India changed Modi’s own instinctive calculus about what was possible versus what was desirable. He found his natural comfort in planning and organising top-down projects — cleanliness drives, popularising yoga, foreign policy initiatives, reviving Varanasi; he was decidedly at sea when it came to managing more organic, complex phenomena such as rooting out black money, reviving moribund sectors of the economy, radically simplifying income tax regimes. The result was a panoply of efforts and yojanas, with varying degrees of incompleteness. What Modi revealed is a talent for inspiring, for planning and execution; but when it came to radically rethinking the economy, he revealed that he was an all too familiar, and tiresome, figure in Indian political economy: a socialist who believed he could turn white elephants into gazelles. Symbolism and metaphors Looking back at the 2014-19 era, we may discover that Modi’s greatest impact might be in changing the vocabulary of Indian politics, especially in the Hindi belt. Thanks to his overt embrace of Hindu symbolism and metaphors, he has revived a more traditional way of conceiving of society itself. Whereas the Left has progressively understood Indian society as a conglomerate of interests held together by power structures; in Modi’s rhetoric, India becomes a site held together by ineffable commonalities, unto which sacrifice — as both, balidaan and yajna — are a natural outcome. If the Indian middle class with one eye on material prosperity and another on what it understands to be tradition, finds in Modi a natural candidate of choice, it is because of the symbols and vocabulary he has adopted, willingly and unabashedly, which endow him with a veneer of authenticity that is recognisable, even communicable.

Share |